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 Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

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PostSubject: Sylvester by Georgette Heyer   Mon Mar 22, 2010 6:03 pm

I have just finished the audiobook of "Sylvester" by Georgette Heyer. Then I had a look at Wikipedia, just to make sure it hadn't been written in the 18th century. It was in some parts so very much like Jane Austen that I sometimes wondered if it might have been a lost manuscript, recovered and published by Ms Heyer. Which is good, I mean, I love Jane Austen. And Sylvester, the main character, is so very much like Mr Darcy that I liked the novel right from the very beginning... but then again, that's me.

So, as for the plot: Phoebe Marlowe, a young heiress, writes a novel which features caricatures of people of society. Unknown to her, her teacher submits the novel to a publisher, and it gets published.
At the same time, Sylvester, the Duke of Salford, decides it's time for him - a chronic flirt and womanizer - to get married. He is then introduced to Phoebe as her potential husband, without knowing that he features as the ultimate villain in her novel.
Phoebe runs away from home to avoid being married off to the Duke, whom she hates. He finds her by coincidence, and they get to know each other - and apparently like each other. However, naturally, Sylvester finds out about the novel and about the very recognizable caricature of his character that Phoebe used. When they meet at a ball, the insulted Sylvester offends Phoebe, and she runs away.
Some time later, Phoebe finds out about Sylvester's sister-in-law Ianthe, who is trying to abduct her son from the care of Sylvester, to whom the boy was left after the death of Sylvester's brother. Phoebe tries to save the boy, but fails - then is found with the kidnappers by Sylvester. Of course, he chooses to misunderstand things, and it takes a while before everything is finally explained to him.

(And yes, they do get married in the end. Of course.)

The writing seems to come from a different era. It is supposed to be a mild parody on the gothic novel. I found it fascinating that a book published in 1957 could sound so much like something from the 18th century.

The plot is rather transparent. The very first dialogue in the novel is such a blunt foreshadowing - we know from the very beginning that Sylvester is going to marry Phoebe. However, as the novel progresses, this knowledge seems to become secondary. It is much more interesting to observe how the characters evolve and mature. Sylvester appears very complicated. I am having trouble, even now, to fully understand his character. His reactions sometimes seem impulsive, almost erratic and irrational, but always make sense later. When I re-listened to several parts, after having finished the entire novel, it felt more like "of course he reacted like this".

So, readers of Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and Elizabeth Gaskell will probably like "Sylvester". On a side note, I really recommend the audiobook, read by Richard Armitage.

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